Global Flows: Terror, Oil, and Strategic Philanthropy

By Barnes, Sandra T. | African Studies Review, April 2005 | Go to article overview

Global Flows: Terror, Oil, and Strategic Philanthropy

Barnes, Sandra T., African Studies Review


U.S. involvement in Africa is growing following threats of terrorism and interruptions in oil production and because of desires by foreign corporations to expand their activities on the continent. The response of American policymakers has been to establish a stronger military presence that will engage in counterterrorism initiatives and police oil installations. The goals and extent of this buildup, and the ideology legitimating it, are new. They are departures from Cold War policies. Similarly, the response of American business leaders to weaknesses in the infrastructure and political order of African states leads them to establish their own forms of community development, known as strategic philanthropy, so as to protect and expand local markets. Despite these major developments, the media are not informing the public. This article examines the implications of these military and business initiatives for African nations and the reasons for lack of information about them.

Résumé: L'implication américaine en Afrique se renforce aujourd'hui, suite aux menaces terroristes et aux interruptions de la production de pétrole, aussi bien qu'à l'intérêt d'entreprises étrangères d'étendre leurs activités sur le continent. La stratégie adoptée par les politiques américains en réponse à ces développements a été d'établir une présence militaire plus importante, pour participer aux initiatives antiterroristes et à la protection des installations pétrolières. Les objectifs et la portée de ces actions ainsi que l'idéologie sousjacente sont nouveaux. Ils constituent une stratégie différente, se démarquant de celles adoptées lors de la guerre froide. De même, la réponse des chefs d'entreprise américains aux faiblesses de l'infrastructure et de l'ordre politique des états africains amènent les politiques américains à établir leur propre forme de développement communautaire, connu sous le nom de philanthropie stratégique, et destiné à protéger et étendre les marchés locaux. En dépit de ces développements majeurs, les médias n'informent pas le public. Cet essai examine les implications de ces initiatives militaires et économiques pour les nations africaines ainsi que les raisons du manque d'information à leur sujet.

AT THIS MOMENT of international crisis, Africa is assuming a new and critical role in global affairs. Contrary to popular opinion, United States involvement in Africa is not continuing its post-Cold War decline. In profound ways, the opposite is the case. American policymakers and business leaders see in Africa a special set of threats, a special set of dangers, and a special set of challenges. This essay focuses on three elements in the U.S. response to these perceived threats and challenges, and it looks especially at what this response means for people on the African continent itself.

First, American policymakers perceive a double danger: the threat of terrorism and the risk of an interrupted oil supply. Their response is to establish a new and more substantial kind of military presence in Africa. The quality of the response, and particularly the political logic that legitimates it, is different from anything that has come before. This article examines the consequences of this response for African nations, especially the security and political issues they raise.

Second, corporate leaders see great opportunities for profit in Africa, but they also see special problems: weaknesses of infrastructure and political order as they relate to large-scale business endeavors. In response, corporations are creating their own kind of interventions. They are using strategic philanthropy so they can relate directly to local communities and civil society within Africa. This means they are making their own independent contributions to community development. This article asks what the implications of these major business initiatives are for African societies.

The third concern is with the American media and its response to the major changes just described. …

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